Monday, June 23, 2014

Even Among Democratic Lawmakers, Support Grows for School Choice

Only 8,700 students rely on Louisiana’s state public scholarship program to attend the school of their choice today, but the state’s lawmakers worked this session to expand options for additional children.

The state legislature passed three school-choice bills pass this year, including a new public school choice program and modifications to existing programs. Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, is expected to sign them all.

One of the measures fully funds the state’s growing voucher program, which allows students in poorly performing schools to use state funding to attend private schools. Another expands flexibility in the voucher and tuition rebate scholarship programs. The third allows students in failing public schools to move to more successful schools nearby under certain conditions.

“I really think support for the scholarship program is growing,” said Stephanie Malin, communications associate for Louisiana Federation for Children, a project of the American Federation for Children. “We’ve had bipartisan support in the House and Senate but more Democratic support in the Senate this year.”

A good example of this increased Democratic support is the third measure, introduced by State Sen. Ben Nevers, a Democrat from Bogalusa. The state assigns A-F grades to each school, based on a variety of performance factors. Under Nevers’ legislation, students at schools that receive Ds or Fs and whose families cannot afford to move or pay for private schools can transfer to nearby schools that received higher grades.

Democrats supported this approach, according to some, because it keeps public money in traditional public schools but addresses the problem of children trapped in persistently failing schools.

“I do believe we ought to give more options to parents whose kids are in schools that aren’t performing well,” said Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, who handled the bill on the House floor. “I also believe that when we do that, we ought to be trying to keep the money in the public schools in Louisiana, because that’s what we’re primarily responsible for.”

Under the bill, students can switch schools only if the transfer follows the school systems’ various policies. Receiving districts must agree to participate and must have space available before students can transfer into them.

Edwards stressed the importance of making the A-F system as fair as possible. “But at the end of the day, it is our accountability system, and everybody understands A, B, C, D or F,” he said. “If under our system a school is going to have a D or an F, to the extent possible, those parents of those students in the D or F schools should have a choice.”


Rise of the super-size British primary schools: 100,000 pupils crammed into classes bigger than legal limit

The number of young children being squeezed into oversized classes has soared four-fold amid a growing crisis over primary school places.

Yet despite the huge rise in demand driven by a baby boom and immigration the number of state primaries increased by just four last year.

It means nearly 100,000 pupils aged five to seven are being crowded into classes that are bigger than the legal limit of 30. This is four times as many as six years ago.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has overseen a boom in the number of children being taught in illegally large classes of more than 30

Experts say this hampers children’s education because they receive less one-on-one attention.

And the number of so-called titan primary schools – which educate at least 800 pupils – rose to 77 from 58 last year.

Some of these are failing schools which have been forced to expand even though they are struggling to maintain standards.

Labour made it illegal for schools to have more than 30 pupils in infant classes except in exceptional circumstances, such as a child being admitted on appeal.

But the Coalition relaxed the rules. A pupil census released yesterday showed how 93,345 five to seven-year-olds are being taught in classes of 31 or more, or 5.9 per cent. In 2008, the figure was just 24,760.

Of those classes bigger than 30, most were classed as ‘lawfully large’ because extra pupils were allowed in for permitted reasons. But the number of ‘unlawfully large’ classes has doubled in a year. Some 17,270 pupils are being taught in illegally large groups – up from 7,125 last year and 4,280 in 2007.

The Department for Education figures showed that the primary school population grew by 2.5 per cent in a year to 4,416,710.

Despite the burgeoning population, the total number of state primary schools in England grew by just four last year – from 16,784 to 16,788.

Official figures have already shown how more than 50,000 extra places have been provided in failing and under-performing schools as councils struggle to cope with demand.

More than a fifth of extra places generated between 2010 and 2013 are in schools rated by Ofsted as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requiring improvement’. In some areas, the proportion is as high as two-thirds.

The equivalent of 500 extra primary schools are estimated to be needed within three years to avert a serious shortage of places.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘The rise in the number of primary age pupils has been known about for a long time; the Government has simply not done enough to look at where those school places are going to be needed and to provide the resources and spaces for them.’

Labour education spokesman Tristram Hunt said: ‘David Cameron and Michael Gove promised small schools with smaller class sizes. Yet in Government their decisions have meant thousands more children are being crammed into overcrowded classes, threatening school standards.’

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘The average infant class size is up only marginally, from 27.3 to 27.4. However we recognise the significant pressure on school places.

‘That is why we are giving local authorities £5billion to spend on new school places.’

’The spokesman added: ‘The figures also include school mergers and closures of poorly attended primary schools. We have created 35 new primary and eight all-through free schools since January 2013, creating an extra 21,500 places.’

    The population of state grammars has reached a  35-year high of 162,630, up from 161,480 last year. The boom came as fee-paying schools saw a small decline in numbers of around 700.


Awesome: Christian University Doesn't Have to Comply With HHS Mandate

Colorado Christian University has won an important case against the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate. Instead of CCU being forced to provide employees and students abortifacients, a federal judge in Denver has ruled that the school can retain its religious freedom. It's a significant decision, and one that the Supreme Court will surely keep in mind as it prepares to decide on the high profile Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius case.

The Becket Fund, a non-profit, public interest law firm who represented CCU in its lawsuit, emailed LifeNews the good news:

    "In a carefully reasoned opinion, the court ruled that the Health and Human Services Mandate, which would have forced CCU to include drugs like Plan B (the “morning after” pill) and ella (the “week after” pill) in its health care plan, infringes the University’s freedom of religion. The court noted that “[i]f CCU refused to provide health insurance coverage for its employees,” or “did not include the coverages required by the Mandate, CCU would be subject to significant – if not ruinous – financial penalties.” The court then concluded that this pressure on CCU to violate its religious beliefs violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

As to why offering employees and students contraception would violate their religious freedom, CCU explained it best:

    "Specifically, CCU challenges the requirement that the group health plans for employees of CCU and for CCU students or, in the alternative, another entity, provide cover age for drugs, devices, procedures, or related education and counseling that may destroy human life after fertilization of the egg of a mother and either before or after the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus of its mother. CCU contends that any participation by them in the implementation of this required coverage imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of its religious beliefs and violates its rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)".

Had CCU lost the case, the school would have been fined millions of dollars annually starting July 1 for refusing to comply with the mandate. Instead, the university can keep its money - and its religious conscience

Maybe, just maybe, CCU's victory is a preface to Hobby Lobby's happy ending.


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